The law is constantly changing to prevent accidents caused through driving distractions. The most common distractions governed by legislation are:
Smoking while driving
Smoking while driving private vehicles is not an offence. But if smoking is the reason for careless driving then this could be viewed by the authorities as an offence. The Highway Code has been updated to reflect this in section 148.
Smoke free laws require company vehicles to be smoke free at all times if they are used:
- to transport members of the public
- or in the course of paid or voluntary work by more than one person – regardless of whether they are in the vehicle at the same time
It is an offence to smoke in any vehicle used for work.
Smoke-free vehicles must display a no-smoking sign in each compartment of the vehicle in which people can be carried. This must show the international no-smoking symbol no smaller than 70mm in diameter.
Penalties for smoking in a smoke free vehicle.
Smokers who do break the law by smoking in work vehicles or on public transport are committing a criminal offence. Anyone who is caught smoking in a smoke free vehicle can face a £50 fixed penalty notice. The £50 fine may be reduced to £30 if it is paid within 15 days. If the offender is prosecuted and convicted in court this fine can be as much as £200. Failure to display no-smoking signs can mean a £200 fixed penalty notice or up to £1000 if convicted in court. Anyone who fails to control or stop someone smoking in a smoke free vehicle can face a £2500 fine if convicted in court.
Highway Code Section 148 states:
Safe driving and riding needs concentration
Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as:
- loud music (this may mask other sounds)
- trying to read maps
- inserting a cassette or CD or tuning a radio
- eating and drinking
The Highway Code does not make it a specific offence to smoke while driving, any more than it is currently an offence to change a cassette, read a map, eat or drink. However, if any of these distractions are coupled with bad driving, or lead to an accident, a charge of careless driving, or not being in a position to control the vehicle becomes a possibility. They can also be used to show dangerous driving, an offence which could lead to imprisonment, particularly if the dangerous driving causes a death.
Smoking and littering whilst driving.
Littering is classed as an offence, specifically, throwing a cigarette out of a car window, whether it is moving or not. This can end up with the motorist being fined. There have been instances when motorists observed throwing cigarettes out of car windows or emptying the contents of ashtrays onto a road have resulted in fixed penalty notices. Drivers have been fined between £50 and £100 for this offence. A maximum fine of £2,500 could be applied to the offender if prosecuted and convicted in a court.
Smoking in a vehicle carrying children under the age of 18
From the 1st October 2015 it became illegal to smoke in a car or other vehicle with anyone under 18. The law was introduced to protect children and young people from the dangers of second hand smoke.
The law applies to drivers age 17 and over in England and Wales, including those with a provisional driving licence. Both the driver and the smoker could be fined £50.
The law applies:
- to any private vehicle that is enclosed wholly or partly by a roof
- when people have the windows or sunroof open, or the air conditioning on
- when someone sits smoking in the open doorway of a vehicle
The law does not apply to:
- a driver who is 17 years old if they are on their own in the car
- a convertible car with the roof completely down
Using a mobile phone while driving
Mobile Phone Driving Law: USING A HAND HELD MOBILE PHONE WHILST DRIVING A VEHICLE IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE UNDER THE ROAD TRAFFIC ACT 1988 – PART II
SHOCKING STATISTICS FOR 2011*
- 26 DEATHS AS A DIRECT RESULT OF USING A MOBILE PHONE WHILE DRIVING A VEHICLE
- 350 ACCIDENTS CAUSED AS A DIRECT RESULT OF USING A MOBILE PHONE WHILE DRIVING
IF YOU ARE CONVICTED OF USING A MOBILE PHONE WHILST DRIVING A VEHICLE, YOU MUST INFORM YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY BY LAW. THIS MAY RESULT IN AN INCREASED INSURANCE PREMIUM OF AT LEAST 30% IN ADDITION TO A £100 FINE AND 3 PENALTY POINTS
*Source – Automobile Association (AA)
Hand held mobile phone laws and driving offences involving use of a mobile phone
Since 1st December 2003 it has been a specific offence to use a hand held mobile phone while driving. From February 2007, drivers caught using a mobile phone while driving have received a £100 fine PLUS three penalty points on their licence. In December 2007, new guidance was issued stating that those involved in more serious accidents would also be charged with dangerous driving and face a prison sentence of up to two years.
Prosecution and court
If an individual refuses to accept the fixed penalty, or the officer who stopped the driver feels that the offence committed was so severe that a fixed penalty is simply inadequate, then the case may end up in court. If this happens fines will almost certainly be larger and disqualification is also possible. The maximum fine in a court is £1000. If the driver is driving a bus or a goods vehicle the maximum fine is £2500.
Serious offences using a hand held mobile phones when driving
The above offences apply if the driver is seen using a phone. If there is an accident, or careless driving has been witnessed while the phone is being used, drivers can also be prosecuted for careless driving or dangerous driving. In the worst case scenario, if someone is killed, they may also be prosecuted for causing death by careless or dangerous driving. If a death is caused, fines can be much greater, and a prison sentence becomes almost certain.
Hands free mobile phones
Hands free mobile mobiles are excluded from the above, however if a driver is seen not to be in control of a vehicle while using a hands free phone they can still be prosecuted for the offence just as if they were using a hand held phone.
Employers (or other callers)
Employers may be open to prosecution if:
• they cause or allow an employee to drive while using a phone or to not have proper control of the vehicle
• they require an employee to use a phone whilst driving
• an employer may be liable if an employee drives dangerously because they are using a phone installed by the employer
Cyclists using mobile phones
It is not an offence to cycle and use a hand held mobile phone, however it is still possible to be prosecuted for careless or dangerous cycling.
Calls may be made to 999 or 112 (the Eurpean Union universal emergency number) in a genuine emergency where stopping is unsafe or impractical.
Other devices that send or receive data, such as hand held internet devices are not exempt, however one exception is a two way radio (devices used by Police and other law enforcement organisations).
Mobile phone use – Guidelines
• IT IS ILLEGAL to use a hand held mobile phone while driving OR while stopped with the engine switched on (this also applies to a hand held mobile phones on loud speaker – having the phone on loud speaker does not make you exempt from the law and any penalties you acquire). This applies to any use of the phone, for example making/receiveing calls, using the internet, using smartphone apps and texting at the wheel.
• If you have a hands-free phone, stop to make or take a call. If this is not practical leave it to voicemail. If you really must talk keep conversations short and tell the caller you will find a safe and legal place to stop and phone back. By using a hands free mobile phone while driving, although you are not breaking the law, you are putting yourself at an increased risk of committing other offences caused through lack of concentration.
• Employers should issue specific company advice on mobile phone use as part of their internal contractual policies and procedures.
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